The occupation deniers

The occupation deniers
Comment: Supporters of Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land are denying the existence of Israeli occupation to excuse continued encroachments, says Ron Taylor.
5 min read
14 May, 2015
Jewish settlers are pushing the Israeli army to expel Palestinians [Anadolu]

Binyamin Netanyahu's sudden interest in honesty - "there will be no Palestinian state" - won him the recent Israeli general election.

He might now be tempted to make another admission - that all along he has been certain that Israel is not occupying Palestine.

An excuse for occupation

It was, after all, Netanyahu who established the Levy Committee in 2012. Three hand-picked supporters of the settlement enterprise were appointed to examine the legality of non-sanctioned West Bank settlements.

These are illegal - not only under international law, but also under Israeli law. It came as little surprise that the committee's report found that Israel is not in fact an occupying power.

One of those selected for the esteemed committee was the former Israeli ambassador to Canada - and a so-called expert on international law - Alan Baker, who is himself a settler.

He once made bizarre claims that in its settlement drive, "Israel has refrained from expropriating private land; the scale of the transfers is too small to affect the territory's character; and, what is most important, the transfers are not permanent."

Even the Israeli government acknowledges that some settlements are indeed built on private land - and any visit to the West Bank would testify against his other claims.

Occupation denial is nothing new. It began almost as soon as the 1967 war ended - even though the Israeli military was clear that it was engaged in an occupation.

     Occupation denial is nothing new. It began almost as soon as the 1967 war ended.

Some politicians and academic lawyers in Israel argued that the West Bank and Gaza, both of which had been part of British Mandatory Palestine, should not be regarded as occupied territories.

Then, in September of that year, a determined attempt was made to undermine the orthodoxy of "belligerent occupation".

In a step that Israel hoped would clear the way for settlement construction on the newly captured land, the prime minister asked Theodor Meron, then legal adviser to the Israeli foreign ministry, to provide an opinion.

The response did not make good reading. Meron reluctantly concluded that "civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention".  In other words, Israel was clearly a belligerent occupier.

Since then, both the Israeli high court of justice (HCJ) and the military courts have consistently held that Israel is indeed an occupying power.

Over the years, decisions by the HCJ have produced a substantial amount of case law confirming the definition.

Legal rights

As recently as 2013, in a case arising from military training in a West Bank village, the Israeli military's advocate general argued that "according to the laws of belligerent occupation, the military commander is obligated to maintain security and public order [in the West Bank]. In order to maintain the competence of [military] forces to carry out that mission, the [army] must train, sometimes even in populated areas."

Despite these setbacks, occupation deniers have continued to try to undermine the courts and the military.

They seek to rationalise the status quo and, above all, pave the way for the annexation of Area C - the 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control, and where there is now a Jewish majority.

Any rights conferred on the Palestinians by the UN General Assembly are simply ignored. They have been encouraged in their quest by right-wing politicians, some of who openly call for annexation.

In the early stages of the occupation, the deniers concentrated on the argument that there was no sovereign power prior to the 1967 war.

Though this claim is still used, more recent arguments have centred around the idea that the Oslo Agreement means Israel's presence in the West Bank is agreed upon - and so the occupation is over.

This completely ignores an important fact.

"International law does not permit the rights of residents of the occupied territory to be reduced by agreements signed with the occupying country," Haaretz's Aeyal Gross wrote last year.

"The Geneva Convention stipulates that people cannot give up the rights it guarantees them even by means of agreements, with the understanding that such agreements between an occupying country and a local occupied population are created under conditions of inequality from the outset."

While court decisions have largely rebuffed the deniers, a new kind of challenge has emerged. The Israeli pro-settler NGO Regavim tends to operate behind the scenes, but there is no doubt where it stands on occupation denial.

"The position of Regavim: There is no occupation," remarked Ari Briggs, its international director. In other words, Israel's ongoing policy of colonisation in the West Bank is perfectly legal.

Regavim, however, wants more. It is concerned that the occupation authorities are too lax and have failed to "cleanse" the land of its Palestinian population.

One of its main activities is to pressure the Israeli military into carrying out demolition orders in West Bank communities. A particular target is the Palestinian village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills, a community which for decades has faced threats to its existence.

Regavim has conducted a legal campaign to force the Israeli military to carry out its "duties" - culminating in a very recent decision by an Israeli court which will allow the demolitions to go ahead.

The battle for Susya will continue. For fear of alarming the international community, Levy's report remains on the desk - although, as Haaretz reports, some of its proposals have been unofficially sneaked through.

But the occupation deniers are not going away; they are no doubt grateful for Netanyahu's victory and his new-found enthusiasm for saying what he means.

Maybe he won't be able to resist tempation and tell the world that Israel is not occupying Palestine after all.

Ron Taylor is a UK-based activist and analyst. He is a frequent visitor to the occupied Palestinian territories and a long-term advocate of an end to the occupation.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.